October 5, 2017. Flagstaff, Arizona.
I hurried to drop the car off at the shady motel before the half gallon of local porter kicked in. Check-in was challenging, since the Indian gentleman behind the counter had a tenuous grasp on the English language, and compensated for this by repeating his statements faster and faster until his interlocutor retreated in alarm.
The next brewery we found was Mother Road, which had free stickers, giant vats that you could sit next to, and dogs. More dogs than we deserved. I drank a panamerican stout of some kind because I love both cultural miscegenation and dark beer. Tables were at a premium, and after we annexed one we offered it to an attractive hipster couple and a pair of olds. Both had quality dogs. One was a tiny scruffer, the other a sinewy lankboy named Chaucer who was alleged to be a “ridgeback, but he doesn’t have a ridge”. They were towing this 80 lb dog around on what looked like a cord made of yarn, but must not have been, because some drunk man managed to trip over it and fall flat on his face. Chaucer was neither inconvenienced nor apologetic.
The drunk man escaped the raucous applause following his li’l tumble and we struck up conversations about travel with both couples, for some reason at differing intervals. The olds were drinking water and eating cucumbers at the bar. They said they were from Illinois and travelled the country in an RV. The youngs were locals, but both had spent semesters abroad in Europe. I spoke with the hipster girl about Italy; she promised me it would be a blast and I would benefit most if I went already having some Italian under my belt. That is, the language. I told her I did, and she told me about a friend of hers who went to France for about a month with a semester or two of French and came back with functional fluency, although modesty forbade her from admitting it.
A note on language learning: Very rarely will people ever cop to fluency. There isn’t a hard-and-fast objective fluency cutoff point; the best they have are the A1 – C2 ranking systems, and even that is mostly guesswork and divination. I’m not fluent in anything except English, and even that’s a most-of-the-time thing, but I can read Italian and French, and carry on punctuated, clunky conversations in Spanish (forewarning my conversational partner that my hablar-ing is gonna be both lento and pretty mal.)
I was advised to hike through the little towns in Tuscany if I had a week. I didn’t know if I would have a week, but the itinerary is still flexible, so I said, “Hard maybe. I didn’t buy a real backpack, I’m definitely just trying to ape culture, see some buildings, eat spaghetti. I’d like to see the Vatican, if they’ll have me.”
“Well,” she said, “I don’t think they can turn you away.”
“I’m gonna have to leave that one to God. Or at very least, the Pope.”
“You can see the Pope! On the projector!” she said, very excited about the projected pope.
“Wait, what? Like a hologram?”
“No, like on his little balcony! He gives speeches on Sundays, you can go watch one if you’re in the Vatican on Sunday.”
“Sure, I’d check out the Pope. I’ll try to line it up.”
“It’s gonna take some planning,” the dude in the sack hat said. “He’s a pretty big deal.”
“You know, I believe that,” I said.
We finished our beers, bid the olds and youngs good night, and continued navigating the inexplicably dark streets of Flagstaff until we happened on a bar that was somehow extracted directly from my subconscious: the Nomad’s World Lounge.
The interior was leather, bronze, and far-flung world art. It was warmly lit with decorative hanging lamps. The bathroom handle was a stylized Egyptian sarcophagus, and the light switch was a painting of topless woman fondling her breasts while eating a flower. Every employee was discernibly drunk, but very friendly. Most importantly, they offered currywurst. I’ve never had currywurst, but I was a Reinhardt main when he was meta, and I felt I owed this to us both.
We tried to take the table next to the globe-shaped metal fire pit, but it was entirely too hot for my blood, which is Celtic jelly. We switched to a larger table next to a smaller torch and proceeded to drink entirely too much pear-flavored German beer and eat a preposterous combination of ethnic food in the form of the menu “Smorgasbord” option which, due to inebriation on both sides, they wound up altering by making an incompatible substitution. To correct this, they gave us the currywurst for free, on top of the Yucatan chicken, bhara hara salmon cakes, mushrooms au poivre, and elote, followed by cayenne bonbons that I gave to the Girl because I don’t believe in dessert. There will never be a sweet as sweet as CT Crunch in vanilla froyo. I’ll die on this hill.
We settled up. They did their best to not charge me for my second beer, but I couldn’t let them hustle themselves like that; it would be like taking advantage. The manager introduced himself and bragged charmingly enough about how critics have insisted that his currywurst is better than what they serve in the town in Germany where it was invented. We congratulated him, promised to return as soon as possible, and faded into the darkness.
Next came Lumberyard, which had a sports bar feel. The Girl ordered a taster of a 110 IBU imperial IPA monstrosity that was so bad it circled back around to good again. It tasted sort of like sparking grape juice someone left in the toilet for a week. A greasy lad sat next to us at the bar, drinking a flight of light craft beers and eating deep-fried tofu squares and the largest plate of celery and carrots I’ve ever seen. It appeared to be voluntary. I pray for him at night.
Historic Barrel and Bottle Co. was next on the list. The bartenders kept giggling and assuring us we were funny, but it’s possible that was just because I am a drunken colossus, we were the only ones in the bar, and the Girl and I have speaking voices that I will modestly describe as “booming” and “sonorous” at the soberest of times. They gave us a flight of cheekily-named beers like “Deer Lord”, “The Blair Bitch Project”, and “Dark Days of Summer”, the latter of which easily being my favorite because it was like a chocolate-covered orange that got you drunk. The flights were served on top of terrible hardcover books. I remember The Da Vinci Code and a Dean Koontz anthology. An anthology! I can imagine no greater masochism.
Stupid drunk, we returned to the streets and found Cornish Pasty Co. It was a massive, high-ceilinged restaurant done up in old, varnished wood that had the feel of a church even before you realized the majority of the furniture was actual pews. The tables spanned the length of the pews. Very medieval, a definite feast-hall vibe. A pixie flitted out from behind the bar and explained to us that pasties, in this context, were meat pies. The Girl explained to her in turn that we saw the name of this place immediately after our stay in Phoenix’s Mad Max brothel strip, and thought it had a different connotation. I somehow ordered more stout and an entire pot roast meat pie; the Girl got chicken pot pie. I don’t remember much, but I know it was so beautiful I came very close to tears.
We thanked her and walked about a mile through the arctic back to the shady motel, where we passed out as soon as the door was closed. We would remain dead to the world until the explosion at 7:30 AM the next morning.